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From The Queen to Emma Raducanu, my top ten women of the year

THERE is no denying it’s been a funny old year.

What a strange mix of despair, uncertainty, hope and optimism it has been.

Starting as it did in deep lockdown, it was clear the only way was up.

This week, with the uncertainty about whether the Christmas we have all been hoping and planning for would even be allowed to go ahead, it would be easy to feel we are back at square one.

But given how many of us have been double-jabbed and boosted, and counting,

I’m taking the view this year is ending on a much more optimistic note than 2020.

Despite such adversity and doubt, there were some women who distinguished themselves in a year that might otherwise have been quite forgettable. Here’s my pick of the best.

THE QUEEN

THIS has not been an easy year for Her Majesty.

In April, she said goodbye to her beloved Philip, her “strength and stay”, after a marriage of more than 73 years.

Although she intended to carry on working as hard as ever, Her Majesty’s health forced her to retreat from public life.

Doctors’ advice to rest forced her to cancel several key engagements, including COP26 in Glasgow in November and her annual appearance at the Cenotaph to honour the war dead — the first time she had been unable to attend on Remembrance Sunday due to ill health.

She also had to endure Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview, in which they criticised the Royal Family and accused an unnamed royal of racism.
Her beloved son, Andrew, has been battling sexual-abuse allegations all year.

Throughout, she has maintained her characteristic dignity, strength and resilience and remains the rock and foundation of our national life. What would we do without her?

KATE GARRAWAY

FINALLY, 2021 brought some good news for TV presenter Kate, who will be awarded a gong in the New Year Honours in recognition of three decades in broadcasting. That includes the heartbreaking documentary she made about her husband Derek Draper’s Covid battle.

Kate bravely shared her family’s struggle with the devastating effects Covid has had on him — the longest-surviving coronavirus patient — helping to educate and raise awareness.

Clearly it has been an incredibly difficult time for Kate and her family. But let’s hope 2022 is the start of better things to come.

DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE

AS she approaches her 40th birthday next month — and despite a particularly challenging year for the Royal Family — Kate has quietly blossomed.

With Prince Louis now at nursery and Prince George and Princess Charlotte both at school, she has moved into a new phase of parenting and has had more time to prepare for her role when William becomes king.

As the Queen has stepped back, and with Prince Harry and Meghan living in Los Angeles, Kate has taken on more royal duties.

These include hosting her first Christmas carol concert at Westminster Abbey in tribute to the work of those who supported their communities through the pandemic.

Elegant, measured and dutiful — and part of a brilliant partnership with her husband, whom she clearly loves, Kate has all the makings of a future queen.

JK ROWLING

WHAT I admire most about this children’s author turned feminist icon is the fact she refuses to be silenced.

She was “cancelled” and called a transphobe for challenging the view of activists who insist that biological sex does not exist.

She has also dared to confront the view that anyone who calls themselves a woman has a right to occupy female-only spaces — even if that threatens those who might feel vulnerable in the presence of biological males.

She has explained on many occasions, and in a lengthy essay, that she is far from hostile to trans people but doesn’t think their rights should trump those of others.
However, last month she was excluded from the 20th anniversary celebration of the Harry Potter films that would not exist without her.

Yet still she will not be silenced.

A couple of weeks ago, the writer res- ponded to guidance by Police Scotland that rapes could be recorded as carried out by a woman if the perpetrator “identifies as female”.

Adapting a quotation from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, she tweeted: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.”

I admire her for her absolute fearlessness about continuing to speak up about what is right, and challenge other people’s hysteria and aggression about this particularly thorny debate.

ELLIE SIMMONDS

THE star swimmer was unable to add to her medal tally at the Tokyo Games. But with eight Paralympic medals, 16 World Championship titles and ten world records, the 27-year-old from Walsall has spent more than half her life competing and inspiring the next generation of Paralympians.

After Tokyo, she announced her retirement following a career to be seriously proud of. Here’s hoping this is the start of a new and exciting chapter for her.

EMMA RADUCANU

THIS time last year, none of us had even heard of Emma.

Now she is a household name and tennis superstar. The 19-year-old British No1 made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon, then went on to win the US Open without dropping a set — becoming the first British woman to win a Grand Slam in 44 years.

Demonstrating her considerable business prowess, she went on to sign sponsorship deals with Tiffany, Dior, Evian and British Airways. What a brilliant sporting and business role model for young women everywhere.

ALEX SCOTT

IT has been a year of firsts for sports presenter Alex.

Most notably, she co-hosted the BBC’s Olympic coverage with Clare Balding, broadcasting live to millions during the Tokyo Games. She also made history by becoming the first female host of Football Focus.

Last month she won Pundit of the Year at the Football Supporters’ Association awards — the first woman to win that category.

And then last week she was co-presenter of Sports Personality Of The Year on BBC1, topping off a career-changing 12 months. Alex, 37, who played for Arsenal and England, said: “I remember watching the awards as a little girl, so to be presenting is just mind-blowing.”

This woman is a brilliant example of the sheer power of determination and talent.

ADELE

THE superstar singer released her new album, 30, last month.

She describes the record as an attempt to explain her 2019 break- up with husband Simon Konecki to their son, nine-year-old Angelo.

It became the biggest-selling album of the year in the US just three days after it went on sale.

After the collapse of her marriage, Adele chose to avoid the public gaze while she set about changing her life.

She discovered the gym, not for weight loss but because it banished her anxiety and she wanted to make herself physically strong.

This is the year that she has very much reappeared.

She looks a million dollars and graced the cover of Vogue magazine.

It appears this brilliant singer really has found her voice and some rock-solid self-esteem.

MYLEENE KLASS

I REALLY admire Myleene for her bravery in making the incredibly powerful documentary Miscarriage And Me.

The musician and presenter opened up about her experience of suffering four devastating miscarriages, in the hope it might help other women.

This subject has been taboo for so long, something women feel they must keep a secret.

But when the show was screened in October, she described it as “like opening the floodgates”, with an outpouring of women sharing their experiences.

The documentary also shone a light on the urgent need for better miscarriage care.

Myleene has worked closely with MP Olivia Blake and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to ask the Government to implement new guidelines to better support women. Change is happening — and she is helping to make that change.

DAME SARAH STOREY

PARALYMPIC cyclist Dame Sarah Storey is just unbelievable, isn’t she? She started her 30-year career as a Paralympic swimmer, winning six medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

And she has gone on to amass a whopping 40 World Championship titles and has a phenomenal 77 world records to her name.

Sarah went to Tokyo this year to defend three titles: The Individual Pursuit, Time Trial and Road Race. She won them all.

When she powered past the finishing line of the C4-5 road race at the Tokyo Paralympics in September, that medal — her 17th Paralympic gold — made the 44-year-old the most successful Paralympian in British history.

She has competed in eight consecutive Games and won an astonishing 28 medals. Sarah puts her longevity down to the fact that she loves what she does.

She added: “Some athletes talk about the sacrifices they’ve had to make.

“I haven’t had to sacrifice anything.”

I have always advised young people that if they love what they do, it does not feel like work.

Dame Sarah Storey — who has no intention of retiring anytime soon, by the way — is testament to that.

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